Did Rick Santorum misspeak or did he actually mean to suggest to a largely white audience that being on welfare is a black problem?
Either way, a presidential candidate should be more careful with the words he chooses.
While stumping for votes Sunday in Iowa in the country’s first caucuses to select party presidential nominees, Santorum made the insensitive comment to a mostly white group of supporters.
“I don't want to make black people’s lives better by giving them other people’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn their money and provide for themselves and their families,” said Santorum.
The racially charged remark came during comments about Medicaid and other federal entitlement programs that have come under attack by conservatives.
There reportedly was only one African American in the room when Santorum made the remark, so his rationale for singling out blacks as welfare recipients is baffling.
The comments drew applause and nods of approval from the Republican audience. Whether they were applauding Santorum’s fiscal plea or his seemingly pointing a finger at blacks is unknown
Two days later, Santorum finished a close second to Mitt Romney in the caucuses.
The former Pennsylvania senator should know that his apparently offhand comment about blacks bolsters negative racial stereotypes that have little basis in reality.
In Iowa, for example, 74 percent of those receiving Medicaid in 2009-2010 were whites and only 8 percent were blacks, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The government programs that some fiscal conservatives would drastically slash in their zeal to reduce the size of government have benefitted all races, especially in this tough economy.
Food stamp benefits, housing assistance, Medicaid, and Social Security have helped families survive, not just “make their lives better,” as Santorum put it.
Highly criticized by civil rights groups for his remarks, Santorum has since tried to backpedal. He told Fox News, “All I can say is that I don’t single out any one group of people. I don’t divide people by group or race or class.”
But that’s exactly what he did — intentionally or not.